Airline review: Air New Zealand economy, Brisbane to Norfolk Island

THE PLANE

Airbus A320 with 168 seats, all economy. Air NZ has 30 of this aircraft in its fleet.

THE ROUTE

Brisbane to Norfolk Island

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Airpoints, which is free to join. Air New Zealand is part of the Star Alliance, but unfortunately you can't earn points on partner airline programs such as Virgin Velocity on Pacific island routes.

CLASS

Economy, window seat 15A

DURATION

Two hours and 10 minutes; we depart and land 10 minutes early.

THE FREQUENCY

Air New Zealand flies to Norfolk Island from Brisbane twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and from Sydney on Mondays, Fridays and selected summer Sundays.

THE SEAT

There's no class warfare on A320s; it's all economy. The configuration is 3-3 and each seat is 17 inches (43 centimetres) wide with a five-centimetre recline and has an adjustable winged headrest, a USB port and a nine-inch (22 centimetres) screen. The pitch varies between 30 and 34 inches (76 and 83 centimetres) depending on where you're seated.

BAGGAGE

My "Works" fare includes one checked bag weighing up to 23 kilograms; I could have taken an extra bag if I'd paid $NZ60 online up to three hours before the flight. The carry-on limit is a standard seven kilograms.

COMFORT

Before my flight, I peek inside the new Air New Zealand Brisbane International Lounge that opened in 2016: a high-ceilinged, architect-designed space with sleek white tables, large windows, quiet nooks and a self-serve cafe. Unfortunately, it's open only to Airpoints elite and gold members, business class travellers and Koru members (Koru membership starts at $NZ599 for a year).

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ENTERTAINMENT

The Works fare includes a complimentary meal, alcoholic drinks and unlimited movies (your seat automatically knows which fare you're on) and there's a good selection: 77 in all, ranging from new releases to short films, plus 55 TV shows and series. (Non-Works passengers can watch TV shows and buy unlimited access to movies and other entertainment for $NZ10.) The entertainment system is ready to go as soon as you get to your seat – good news when you have less than two hours' viewing-time with the PA announcements and safety video (which doesn't live up to Air New Zealand's sky-high standards this time). There's no inflight magazine; KiaOra is only on domestic NZ flights.

FOOD

For lunch there's a choice of two meals: beef salad vermicelli rice and Chinese plum chicken with rice, which looks like fried chicken nuggets and is tasty. Both come with a warm bread roll and a raspberry mousse-like dessert. The drinks trolley arrives long after I've finished my meal. There's a "wine experience" section in the entertainment system with information about the wines Air New Zealand serves (the airline pours 6.5 million glasses inflight each year, apparently); you can also order New Zealand wines by the bottle or case and have them delivered to your home address (not to your destination; that's what duty free is for).

SERVICE

Air New Zealand's self check-in kiosks at Brisbane International Airport make checking-in a breeze; it took less than 10 minutes to choose my seat, print my boarding pass and drop off my bag. Alas, time won was soon lost at immigration: visitors to Norfolk Island can't use the SmartGates; we have to line up for manual processing, which took almost an hour. On board, the flight attendants were friendly and professional and a credit to the airline.

ONE MORE THING

You can now travel to Norfolk Island with just photo ID such as your driver's licence, but it's a good idea to take your passport anyway to avoid delays in immigration and in case your flight there or back is diverted to another country.

THE VERDICT

Air New Zealand's check-in kiosks, ready-to-go entertainment system and world-class service more than make up for the hassle of having to fly internationally to an Australian island and make me wish the flight was longer – how often do you get to say that when flying economy?

Tested by Louise Southerden who flew courtesy of Norfolk Island Tourism.

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